Who “wins” the Royals final roster spot(s)?

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The Royals made three more roster moves yesterday in efforts to trim down their roster to 25, and will likely make a few more in the next 24 hours after they conclude their Cactus League schedule today and head north to face Omaha on Monday Night (glad they’re bringing this game back)!

The Royals, despite releasing OF Michael Sanders (who declined a request to go to Omaha) and P Ricky Nolasco before their Spring Training 4-4 tie yesterday, and sending down RP Kevin McCarthy after, by our count, still have 35 players in camp. We’re now just days away from Opening Day. Who wins the final roster spot battles?

There’s 12 position players that are virtually locks – catchers Salvador Perez and Drew Butera, Lucas Duda, wHIT Merrifield, Mike Moustakas and Alcides Escobar as well as Cheslor Cuthbert and Ryan Goins and outfielders Alex Gordon, Jon Jay and Jorge Soler in addition to Paulo Orlando. Goins is a non-roster invite, so he will have to be added to the 40-man roster. He beat out Ramon Torres, who has options remaining. Orlando is out of options, so I guess it’s possible he is not safe. Merrifield can also play outfield and I’d rather see Aldaberto Mondesi on the 25-man roster, but with Soler as part of the rotating DH (with Moose, Cuthbert, Duda and Perez), they have to have an extra outfielder, and Orlando is the best bet. Outside of Mondesi, Orlando’s competition includes non-roster invites Billy Burns and Tyler Collins. Like Goins, they are not on the 40-man roster, making the decision to keep Orlando over them rather easy, although manager Ned Yost has mentioned how much he likes Collins.

For the pitching staff, the rotation is locked in: Danny Duffy (despite leaving yesterday’s start early (shoulder; precautionary)), Ian Kennedy, Jason Hammel, Jake Junis and Nate Karns. For the bullpen, Kelvin Herrera, as the closer, is a lock, as is set-up man Brandon Maurer and recently-signed Justin Grimm. Wily Peralta, despite his brutal spring (13.50 ERA, 3.00 WHIP in 8.0 IP in 6 games) and 2017 (5-4, 7.85 ERA, 1.83 WHIP in 19 games, 8 starts before being DFA’d by Brewers) likely makes it due to his Major League contract status. Non-40-man Blaine Boyer has had a great spring (0.00 ERA, 0.79 WHIP, .227 AVG against in 6.1 IP in six outings) and should make it. He will have to be added to the 40-man roster, and will earn a salary of $1 million if/when it happens. Then, it gets interesting. There’s two Rule 5 dude’s in camp – right-handers Brad Keller and Burch Smith. Per Rule 5 rules, both would need to be returned to their former clubs if they do not make the roster (and must stay there the entire season, or be subject to waivers before returning to their old clubs). Keller’s minor league numbers do not jump out at you (40-32, 3.77 ERA, 1.358 WHIP, 7.3 K/9, in 106 games – all but 6 as starts) and the 22-year old has never pitched above AA, where he had the worst year of his career last year (5.03 ERA, 1.523 WHIP) in 26 games (all starts), but he has produced a solid spring (2-0, 2.70 ERA, 1.300 WHIP with a 12.6 K/9 in 10 innings) and has a good shot to make it. Smith, on the other hand, hasn’t had a good spring (7.50 ERA, 2.00 WHIP with 11 walks in 12 IP) and he’s also 28 and hasn’t pitched in the big leagues since 2013 (1-3, 6.44 ERA, 1.651 WHIP in 10 games (7 starts) for Padres). He did not pitch in 2015 or 2016 due to Tommy John surgery, but had a solid 2017 as he made his comeback, reaching Triple-A, where he logged a 1.65 ERA, 0.80 WHIP and 19 strikeouts in 16.1 innings. He has a power arm (10.8 K/9 this spring), so that’s always intriguing. He also has plus-plus hair. Intangibles!

That’s 24 players. For the final spot, these players are still on the roster: infielder Humberto Arteaga, Mondesi, Collins, Burns, Frank F Schwindel, Brian Flynn, Eric Skoglund, Tim Hill, Clay Buchholz, Seth Maness and Mike Broadway. While I want the last roster spot to go to Mondesi, he is behind due to missing 10 games mid-camp, and just returned to the field yesterday. He could be ready by Opening Day, but playing time, thanks to bringing back Esky, could be an issue. Expect him to start in the minors. I also fully expect Ned to go with 13 pitchers, because that extra pitcher is always so valuable with the extra days off early on…If not Mondesi, I would really like to see what Schwindel could do after his impressive spring (.375/.390/1.000 and a MLB-leading 7 HR) on the heels of the 26-year-old’s breakout season last year (.329/.349/.541, 23 HR, 97 RBI) across two levels, but the addition of Duda and re-signing of Moose leaves no room for Frank the Tank (and Ryan O’Hearn, who also had a great spring), because of the need for Cuthbert to get AB.

That leaves a pitcher for the final spot, and since we do not have a left-handed pitcher, it will be either Flynn, Skoglund or submariner Tim Hall. All have had good springs, but the decision is easy when it comes down to Flynn being out of options. Hill and his unique delivery, is intriguing, and would be suitable for a situational lefty, but he is on the 40-man so sending him down won’t hurt (I think he makes it if Peralta or one of the Rule 5’s don’t make it). Skoglund, who is starting Monday Night in Omaha, is more of a long reliever or starting pitcher, so the role as a potential situational lefty does not fit him.

We’ll find out Ned’s final selections soon enough. Stay tuned.

***

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